By Ronnie Anderson, Department of Conservation

A bit of rain won’t deter a bunch of intrepid trappers hell bent on ridding Donnelly Flat of pests so our native birdlife can thrive.

Unless the weather is extreme every second Thursday you can find these determined volunteers out at Mount Holdsworth checking the trap lines; followed by a cuppa, a homemade scone, and some friendly banter.

‘Project Kaka at Donnelly Flat’ is the birth child of Nigel Boniface. “It it all started when I was walking through the forest one day and saw what I took to be a family of tūī teaching their young ones to fly. I thought, wouldn’t it be good if there were more birds here!”

Nigel spoke to the Holdsworth Caretaker at the time, Chris Petersen, they took their idea to DOC and by winter 2010 trapping had begun.

Since official records were kept numbers of possums have been steadily declining – from an overall catch of 152 in 2011, to a total of four possums caught during 2021.

Numbers of rats and mice tend to fluctuate more according to the supply of forest seed. This year’s catch numbers were 122 rats and 226 mice, well down on previous years.

“We can’t claim all the glory, this has been assisted by aerial 1080 operation in the much larger Project Kaka zone, but it is great to see the hard work starting to pay off,” said Nigel. “You often see busloads of school kids here – earlier this year one of the teachers came up to me and said they do the trip every year and have noticed more and more birds recently.”

Nigel said the group would like to do regular bird counts but have struggled to get people with the skills to undertake monitoring. However, anecdotal evidence does point to an increase in bird life in the area.

“The caretaker Eric has said he’s starting to get some complaints from campers that the birds are waking them up in the morning. He reckons the dawn chorus is getting better and better all the time. That’s what we like to hear!”

With a long-term vision of releasing locally extinct species in the forest park, including the North Island Robin (toutouwai), Nigel set out to expand operations and the Holdsworth Restoration Trust was born. The Trust has kicked off the Atiwhakatu Project which is designed to control pest numbers to low levels over at least 1,000 hectares.

Volunteers for the Atiwhakatu Project meet weekends and weekdays to mark trap lines, put out traps and service them – and Nigel says there’s no shortage of volunteers. Students from Rathkele, Makoura, and the Carterton Scouts all service a line as well as other groups of volunteers.

Senior Biodiversity Ranger, James Harbord, says DOC is extremely grateful for all the hard work of the Donnelly Flat group and wider Holdsworth Restoration Trust.

“It’s not just about killing animals; it’s about bringing back the animals that should be here. These volunteers are a massive part of the kaitiaki of the Holdsworth area. And it’s not just locals that benefit, it’s everybody that comes here.”

The Project Kaka and Donnelly Flat group is always on the hunt for volunteers. If you like exercising in the great outdoors, meeting like-minded people, and want to have fun doing something for nature, contact Nigel on

“A lot of people just really enjoy the half day out. The joke is people really do it for the cup of tea and Debbie’s scones.”

Originally published in the Wairarapa Midweek


Members of the Project Kaka and Donnelly Flat group, Ian Shanks and Nigel Boniface with DOC Biodiversity Ranger James Harbord and his daughter Estelle.

Members of the Project Kaka and Donnelly Flat group, Ian Shanks and Nigel Boniface with DOC Biodiversity Ranger James Harbord and his daughter Estelle.